Importance of communication within a remote team.

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Working remotely, not to state the obvious, is very different from working in an office.  While most leaders know how to handle the office working environment and what is needed to keep staff happy, how to aid collaboration and to ensure engagement and motivation levels remain high.  The rapid move to home working has left many realising they need to rethink traditional methods.

According to research by YouGov, a lack of motivation and feeling unconnected to their colleagues has impacted the performance of those under the age of 35 more than any other age group. This just highlights how different remote working is to office working.  Connections, conversations, and meetings are all easier when you are sitting within 3m of your entire team.  When working remotely communication becomes even more important, how, when, with who and how regularly leaders and team members communicate needs to be considered and carefully thought about. 

Large scale communication

It is important for the team to still feel connected, even if they are geographically scattered.  Schedule company/team/department-wide communication to ensure that everybody is up to speed with current projects, company updates etc.  Think about the best way to communicate these, is it an email to everyone or perhaps a video call with many presenters giving a quick update, or could it be a pre-recorded video from the CEO. The method you use depends on the information you need to convey and remember it does not need to be the same format every time, it can be mixed up.

One-to-one

This is perhaps the biggest difference between home and office working.  The quick ‘how are you doing?’ the ‘Can I grab you for 5 minutes to talk about XXX?” the impromptu conversations, quick questions or just general office chat do not happen when everyone is sat at home.  If not careful, it could be easy for people to go days without physically speaking to another member of the team. If someone is stressed, upset or unhappy in the office, it often clear to see from their demeanour, actions, and reactions.  This is easier to hide when at home, especially if they aren’t speaking to anyone. Time needs to be set aside to talk to workers and check on their state of mind and general wellbeing.  It’s good to remind people that not every call needs to be a formally scheduled meeting.  Just as you’d pop by someone’s desk for a chat or to ask a question, this can still be done virtually with a video or voice call. 

Project/Group communication and collaboration

There is no denying that collaboration is more of a challenge when not in one place.  But it does not mean it is impossible, clear communication is key for the success of remote projects and there is now an array of project management tools available to help keep projects on track and enable everyone to have a clear vision of tasks, responsibilities, and their progress. When communicating with team members you need to use the right method/tools for the task at hand.  For example, kick-off meetings, problem resolutions, idea generation, things that work better when done as a group, should be conducted via video call and replicate as much as possible, a normal in-office meeting.  If you want to ask an opinion on something, schedule a call it will be much quicker and more effective than sending an email and wading through all the potentially conflicting replies. However, don’t feel the need to have a call about everything, a quick email or instant message works just as well for simple updates.

Social

The social side of office life is an important one.  If staff can build good social rapport and friendships this helps to improve and aid working relationships. This type of communication is often impromptu chats, lunches with team members or after-work drinks.  All of which are harder to replicate when we cannot meet in person. While not everyone’s cup of tea, virtual drinks, quizzes or even escape room challenges can all be conducted via Zoom/Skype.  While these should not be made compulsory, it is good to try and recreate the social aspect of the office.

Don’t forget technology

The technology is out there, in fact, there is perhaps too much choice on ways to communicate.  For remote communication to work, everybody needs to have access to the right tools. There is no point scheduling a group video call if half the attendees don’t have permission to download the software.  Make it clear which channels you, as a company/team will be using. For example, here at Chiumento we use Teams for our calls and general email for written communication, plus a company WhatsApp for informal more friendly conversations.  We all have access to these and know what channel should be used and when.  This needs to be made clear from the outset, so people know what to use and where to check for messages.

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